Long Line

When I first started my family tree, my grandparents were all dead, but some of their siblings were still living. Luckily, my grandmother’s (Victoria Barbara Schweiger Haws) younger brother, Sylvester Joseph Schweiger, was living nearby. Age 74, he was the last of the Schweiger siblings.

So Mom made a phone call to arrange a visit to their house in Oak Lawn one weekend day. Uncle Syl and Aunt Stacia were wonderful to talk to, and he gifted me with photocopies of the letter from Fr. Sylvester Hartman[n] (in later years, he drops the 2nd ‘n’), and the Schweiger family tree, typed up in German.

4 April 1936, letter from Sylevester Joseph Hartman[n] to Stacia Cooney Schweiger (Uncle Syl’s wife), referencing the tree, below.
Schweiger family tree (in German) obtained from Anna Schweiger Alf. She was the daughter of Sigmund Schweiger (at the top), oldest brother of my great-grandfather, Ignatz. The siblings are all listed (with Sigmund repeated) to the right of their father, Alois. “Confirmed by the parish office of Steingaden; Anton Börmann, chaplain” is the only sourcing for the entire page.

The tree showed my great grandfather, Ignatz, at the top right, listed with his siblings. Then it had their parents to the left, his father’s parents, grandfather’s parents, and so on. The earliest person was born in 1711. I was suitably impressed! It wasn’t particularly well-sourced, but it was from 1936—that wasn’t too surprising. It was my longest genealogy line until the Meintzer wall came down in the mid-1980s.

An English transcription got into my hands in 1980, clearly taken from the first document. I’m not sure who typed it—Fr. Hartman[n], Uncle Syl, or Leslie Larson (husband of my 2nd cousin, once removed, on the Harry line), who sent it to me.

English transcription of the previous page. Someone’s typwriter keys needed cleaning. Plus, it’s probably a copy of a copy, so a little degradation happens each time. I could retype it, but that runs the risk of introducing errors from making that copy. As I continue to go through my do-over, I probably will create a cleaner transcription in a digital format for better preservation, with VERY CAREFUL proof reading.

On all my other lines, I was lucky to have great grandparents’ names and birth dates (off their tombstones), and “Germany.” No village names, ships’ names, immigration dates. Nothing to help me search for them in the old country. In pre-internet days, I’d have been throwing darts at a map, trying to guess which LDS microfilm to order and crank through. At $3.25 each, the dollars and time spent would add up quickly, with possibly nothing to show for it.

But the Schweiger line? It was practically handed to me on a silver platter. The drawback was the tendency to be complacent about it. I might have been able to order microfilm records from their villages (if the church records had been filmed), but it would have cost me money for information I “already knew.” Since it was coming from German relatives in the family, I tended to believe the information, despite its lack of sourcing.

Then of course, I had kids, and genealogy screeched to a halt. When I resumed, I learned about the laws passed in April 1933, in Nazi Germany, requiring Germans to put together a family tree, demonstrating there was no Jewish blood in their ancestry. While I knew I still had Schweigers living in Germany then, who could have been impacted, I had no idea if that document still existed, or who might have it.

Imagine my surprise when Dad’s cousin Fred mailed me the document created because of those laws. It measured 10.5″ x 21.5″. It took 4 sheets of legal paper, taped together, but trimmed down to 14″ x 23.75″. Fred obtained it from a granddaughter of Anna Alf, the woman referred to in the 1936 letter.

Lower left corner: “Before the completion of the pedigree, to be considered” followed by instructions. I suggest opening this image in a new window, to do it justice. It’s dated 20 December 1939, so 3½ years after Fr. Hartman[n]’s letter. So while Anna had to research her ancestors earlier, she apparently didn’t have to file something formally, until 1939—or had to present it a second time, for some reason.

It appears to be the source of the information contained on the pages I obtained from Uncle Syl. His note penciled in the left margin explains this document’s provenance. Of course, it also includes additional information about the women’s lines, not included in the chart from Fr. Hartman[n]. The Schweiger ancestors are on the left half of the page. Anna had to provide information back to her great-great grandparents. Presumably her job as a stenographer for the German Labor Front (a civil service position) required her compliance.

The small circles, looking like chicken pox? It’s a rubber stamp, difficult to read (it could have used a cleaning, and more frequent re-inking), stamped on each block (person). In the center is “Geprüft!” (“checked!”). The circle part is much harder, with partial letters, or letters over other printing. At the bottom it has “Ahnen____,” which might actually be “Ahnennachweis.” It’s not one of the terms mentioned in the Wikipedia article above, but seems to be a merging of “Ahnenpass” and “Ariernachweis.” You know how they like to make up compound words in German by just adding words together. “Nachweis” means “evidence,” so that would fit. The next word might be “Augsburg” (which would also make sense). The very last section almost looks like “Haupt” (head), but I can’t make out what’s inbetween. My guess is that it’s a department name—so something like, “Augsburg [department] head/office.”

If anyone can interpret the stamp better, please let me know! I have a feeling the stamp and even the form itself varies from place to place. While the information required was probably the same, there may not have been a standard format. Did Anna have to produce actual documents for each person? Is that what constituted proof? I don’t know.

This document is one of those serendipitous things that sometimes drop into our laps. It’s something that could have easily been discarded, due to disinterest or its connotations. Fortunately, it wasn’t. It remains proof of a time it may be easier to forget than to remember.

So . . . do I actually have something to be thankful to Adolph Hitler for? That’s a really scary thought. Nevertheless, it may be true.

I’m grateful, though, to the distant family members who decided to keep it, rather than discarding it, because of the reasons the information was gathered. Since more records are now online, I definitely need go back to verify the dates and places stated there.

#52Ancestors

Favorite Photo

“Keep the Home Fires Burning”–Lena Guilbert Ford

Growing up, the upstairs hall closet contained a hodgepodge of curious items. Dad’s Navy trunk was there. I have no idea what was in it; it surely wasn’t empty! A black, weighted silk, short cape (with a lot of ruffles) belonging to Mom’s Aunt Lizzie (Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens) hung there, covered by a dry cleaning bag. It was later donated to the Northbrook Historical Society. Boxes of old photos (that never came down) were on the top shelf.

Also on the shelf was another dry cleaning bag. This one contained brown, dry grass, curved around in a fish hook shape. It was always the top item, so would come down occasionally, for easier access to items below. Mom told me it was the grass skirt Dad sent her when he was in the South Pacific.

It sure didn’t look like the grass skirts I saw on Hawaii Five-O each week! It was down-right threadbare. Or grass-bare? I once asked about using it for a Halloween costume, and was summarily denied. Of course, dressing in a grass skirt in October in Chicago, isn’t necessarily the best plan, anyway.

Eventually I saw photos of Mom posing in the grass skirt. They would have been squirrelled away in those untouched boxes. My first impression (after my initial shock!) was that they were all essentially the same. No so. More about that later.

Now, before we get the censors all up in my face, complaining, Mom is wearing a swimsuit bottom or short shorts, under the skirt, and a scarf or midriff top on top. No need to panic or cover the kids’ eyes . . .

When my dad enlisted in the Navy in August, 1942, he and Mom were a hot item. They’d been dating a while, and had exchanged lover’s knot “promise rings.” They weren’t actually engaged, but were darn close.

Mom was all for getting married before he finally shipped overseas (basic training was pretty close to home, at Great Lakes Naval Station), but Dad didn’t agree. Not knowing where he’d be shipped to, or what might happen to him, he didn’t want her left a widow, possibly with a child to raise.

Dad was probably right, because fertility didn’t end up being an issue for my mom. After they married, she gave birth to three children in 2 years and 5 months, my sister arriving 14 months after they wedding. Would she have gotten pregnant right away if they had married earlier? Maybe not, but who knows?

Nor did they advance to an official engagement before he left. Dad didn’t think it was fair for her to be tied down (Northbrook was a small town, where everyone knew everyone!), while he was off, who knows where, pretty much unaccountable to anyone. They still had their promise rings, so letters and photos flew back and forth between them.

Dad also sent trinkets back; cowrie shells, and of course, The Grass Skirt. I don’t remember hearing my Mom’s reaction to its arrival, but obviously she realized should send a photo back, wearing it. She certainly didn’t want Bob to forget about her, 8000 miles away!

This first photo was probably taken at home, in her backyard. Mom is wearing shoes, and has a flower in her hair. Even if the photo was taken by one of her friends, her parents would have been close by, not to mention neighbors peeking through windows. She looks a little embarrassed, to me, at least. Or maybe the sun was just in her eyes.

Ardyth Meintzer, in the grass skirt sent to her by her boyfriend, Robert W. Haws, when he was stationed on Vanuatu. There’s a flower in her hair, and everything!

On the other hand, the two photos below were taken at a different time and place. She was at the summer cottage of the parents of her friend, Eleanor Wold. Ardyth and Eleanor were childhood friends, Eleanor’s father being a local pastor. The family moved to Ohio about the time Eleanor was going to attend Ohio State University. At least one summer Ardyth spent her vacation visiting the cabin/cottage Eleanor’s parents owned or rented. There is an entire collection of photos of the two girls, with that fencing somewhere in it.

I imagine Eleanor is taking the photo, and Ardyth is certainly vamping it up—definitely up at least one notch from the earlier photo! I question whether Ardyth’s parents saw these photos get mailed. Would she have even developed them at home? Personally, I would have developed them in Ohio, where no one knew me!

These photos are among the few things we have from that time period. All their wartime correspondence is gone. My dad made Mom throw out all his letters when they got married. He didn’t want her holding over his head any promises he’d made in the throes of courting. I’m reasonably sure he made good on all of them, eventually; he just didn’t want her griping about the speed or timing!I also wonder a bit about those Haws boys. Not only did my dad send a grass skirt home to his girlfriend, but so did his older brother, Henry—to his WIFE! They had a one year old son. Heavens, WHAT was he thinking?? I don’t have access to those photos, however. How many other grass skirts were shipped to the US during WWII? How many still lurk in closets or attics? Who can say?

Mom’s grass skirt is still up in my closet, while I try to decide whether or not to keep it. Its storage environment is horrible. Seriously? Dry cleaning bag? That’s about as bad as it gets. To keep it, I really should conserve it in some way. Can I straighten it? How? Then what? Mount it in a shadow box, for display? It’s pretty scrawny-looking. Does anyone even want to see it? Or store it? Questions with unknown answers.

Until I can decide, it remains where it is. But I’m quickly approaching the fork in the road where I need to make a decision.

#52Ancestors

Fresh Start

“The beginning is always today.”–Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

At the end of 2014, Thomas MacEntee began a new journey with genealogy— the Genealogy Do-Over. He planned to “hit the reset button” on his research, restarting from scratch with an empty tree. The premise was that now, as a smarter, more experienced genealogist, he would produce a more correct, better documented tree.

It was a bold and scary decision, and he invited the rest of us to journey with him.

I was not that bold! I didn’t have enough time to devote myself to rebuilding my tree, and the thought of living with a marginally functional tree was unacceptable.

Fortunately, Thomas recognized people like me existed, so he offered a “lite” version—a GO-Over. Instead of starting with an empty tree, I would apply the method to my current tree.

So I registered for the monthly email, found the Facebook group, and acquired the book.¹ It was a semi-fresh start, if you will.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years! What, if anything, have I accomplished in that time? Let’s be honest, my tree is still a work in progress, but improvement has been made.

In December, 2014, Evidence Explained² was my reading material on a 15-day cruise to Hawaii. Yes, all 800+ pages of the (then) 2nd edition! I bought the book earlier, but never had time to sit down and read it. I figured 10 sea days would be a good opportunity. While Ms. Mills recommended reading the first chapter or two, and then using it more as a reference, I did read it cover-to-cover. Twice, actually, because I bought the 3rd edition in 2015, shortly after it was released.

It was worth all the funny looks from other passengers as I lugged the 3-inch thick tome around the ship. The book provided an amazing education in research, in addition to source citations. I discovered sources I had no familiarity with, and learned more about ones I was familiar with. I thought about research and sources more in that 2 weeks than I had in my entire life!

So proper sourcing of my research was the initial focus for my go-over. I had become more diligent in adding source citations when Family Tree Maker improved that area of their software. I realized they did not, however, meet the standards put forth in Evidence Explained. Family Tree Maker now had templates based on Evidence Explained, so I began the the process of converting the sources, one at a time.

The learning curve rivaled Mt. Everest! Despite the templates, a lot of trial and error was involved to get my citation looking like the sample in the book. Finally, success! That was one. It had taken maybe an hour, with the back and forth between the software, the book, and the record image. This was going to take forever . . .

Another one of my goals was achieving consistency with my sources. How could I accomplish that, particularly across files? I can have 2 files open simultaneously, so I could reference one while crafting the other, but there is a risk I mix them up and change the wrong one. Placing each file display on its own screen might minimize the risk, but that’s a luxury I don’t have. Side-by-side windows, which I use compulsively, doesn’t accomplish the same thing.

So, back to the internet, to see what ideas others had. Thomas seemed to use a spreadsheet. I use lots of spreadsheets, but that didn’t seem like the solution for me. Then I saw someone using Evernote, and that made sense. I already had an under-utilized Evernote account, and being synced in the cloud meant I wasn’t locked into being on my computer when I needed to build a citation.

I created a “sources” notebook, giving each source its own note. The title lists the exact database name, so it’s easy to find. If it’s coming from a maga-site, I attach that to the front:

  • Ancestry – U.S. Census 1880-1940 (by Census Year and Location) or
  • FamilySearch – United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Below the title, I type the section in Evidence Explained talking about that particular source type, including the specific page number. If I have questions later on, I don’t want to have to thumb through 800 pages for the right section!

Most importantly, I list the exact template I finally decided on from Family Tree Maker, followed by the SOURCE fields I use (it’s never all of them!). Those might have a specific value (the database name) or just a note about what goes in there (film number or year), so I know what to look for.

The citation detail section follows, describing the information needed to locate the record, again. It, too, is a combination of specific text and placeholders, reminding me to retrieve information from the record:

[civil division], e.d. _______; Page ___; dwelling number ___; family number ___; line ___; [person of interest] household; accessed __________    note:  just household number in 1940

Citation text finishes up any other information needed to cite the record. I have one place to go to for my citation layout. Currently I have 205 notes. The early ones took a little time to piece together, but the up-front cost has paid off. I can create a citation for an existing database pretty quickly. Even new databases can be added more quickly, because I’ll look for a similar record type, copy the entire note, and modify it to be appropriate for the new database.

With citations easier to write, I’m more likely to attach them right away, rather than leaving the fact(s) undocumented. Do I ALWAYS cite EVERYTHING new going in my file? No, not always. BUT that happens less and less, which is progress! I’m making steady headway through the old, non-standard citations, updating them to proper format. I love seeing the little star in the source’s icon.

Tied in with that project, is cleaning up my digital records. When a proper citation is created, I attach a digital image to it, giving me easy access to the actual document if I have it. I also settled on a naming convention for files. Unfortunately, I have files still NOT named according to the plan. I have duplicates of images scattered throughout my computer folders. When files weren’t named consistently, it wasn’t easy to check if I already had it. I was safer to download a new image, rather than risking NOT having it. So I need to gather all the genealogy record images together, delete the duplicates, and rename the “keepers.”

An significant component of my go-over has been the 52 Ancestor challenge. In the course of writing blog posts, I frequently find myself going through the old research for the people involved. “Since I’m there” I try to make the time to check their information, look for missing information, and put their sources in order. Tackling the task in smaller bits makes it more manageable.

The other area I’ve been cleaning up has been my locatons. Consistency is important here, too. Sometimes the county was left out, sometimes there was a typo I missed. Going through the locations and eliminating duplicates (or near-duplicates) tidies up the file. If I’m doing local research, it means I don’t miss looking for a record because that event didn’t show up in the list I generated.

Am I satisified with the progress made? Sure. Is my file perfect? Certainly not! Do I wish I was finished with the do-over? Yes, just so it was done. But I’m smart enough to realize that if I had waited until “I had enough time to do it,” my file and computer records would be in far worse shape. I don’t have the kind of life allowing me uninterrupted genealogy time. Waiting for the perfect time would mean it never happens. So I’m content with chipping away at it. Doing something is better than nothing!

#52Ancestors


¹Thomas MacEntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook (Lexington, KY, 2016).

²Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 3rd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).

You

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”–Oscar Wilde

It’s hard to believe I’m at the end of the second year of blogging! Time flies when you’re having fun? Or do I just not know when to give up?

One “rule” I adopted fairly early was to focus mostly on people no longer living. I could sound all noble and say it was to respect the privacy of my living family members, but mostly is was pure self-preservation. The dead can’t get in your face or call you on the phone to chew you out if you say something they don’t like. Nor can they send you a scathing email.

There are many stories I know and could share, but don’t, for various reasons. Sometimes the event is too recent, making the memories too intense and emotions too raw. Or they aren’t necessarily my stories to tell, and I don’t feel comfortable hijacking them from the individuals they belong to. Perhaps the time will be right in 10 years. Or twenty.

Make no mistake, I do mention living people on occasion, usually in passing. I need to give them photo credit, or give their book a plug (as I’m lifting a story from it—always giving them credit, of course!). Or they are necessary players in the memory I’m writing about that week. I try to keep descriptions about them vague enough that tracking down more information about them would take some effort—effort I’m hoping nefarious people won’t put forth.

This week I’m supposed to write about me. So much for the “not living” rule. Dead women don’t blog! I have no clue where this post is headed, though.

Six months old, propped in the white leather armchair. My pre-writing days. It’s hard to imagine that innocent face being such a trouble-maker, later on . . .

If you read my About page, you found a brief description. The first two blog posts (Oh Boy! and Start) filled in additional gaps about me. I could continue by typing paragraphs listing favorite foods, books, movies, vacations—you name it. Everything would be true, but most of it would be somewhat superficial. And it would be real easy to skew the information in the way most beneficial to me.

The trouble is, I had high school English teachers who drummed into our skulls about substantiating the points we were making (thank you, Mr. Linden!), and to “show not tell” in our writing. Even 45 years later, it’s still second nature; a habit I can’t shake. As a result, an observant reader of my blog will have learned more about me than I would ever volunteer. What sort of things, you might wonder?

  • The music I listen to, movies I watch, and types of books I read.
  • The convoluted logic my brain engages in. Logic that results in the Craft prompt being about a boat!
  • I have lots going on. You’ve experienced blog posts being late due to “life happening,” early due to lack of internet, and posts short on “genealogy” because we were making “family history” at the vacation house.
  • I possess an odd combination of persisitence and flexibility, which somehow keeps the blog published on a fairly consistent schedule, despite the above complications.
  • My research process is a lot like sausage-making—sometimes downright messy and ugly, though the results are frequently good.
  • I used to listen to Paul Harvey. Often I am trying to determine “the rest of the story” for someone, instead of settling for more mundane information about them.
  • I’m a lot like a dog with a bone. The more the answer to a research question eludes me, the more likely I am to hunker down with it, and keep searching.
  • I often gravitate to the “underdogs” on the tree—those who died young, never married, or never had kids. With fewer or no descendants, they are frequently overlooked and shortchanged.
  • I don’t have a problem being wrong. Make no mistake, I don’t like it, and try to avoid it in the first place. When an error pops up, I make sure to document what was wrong, and how it happened, so the correction is obvious, and I hopefully don’t make the same mistake, again.

Of course, there are aspects of the writing process you are oblivious to, because all you see is the final product. I edit myself—a lot. You are blissfully unaware of the times I agonize over “a/an” vs. “the.” Seriously! Sometimes I change it back and forth several times—and then decide that sentence really needs a demonstrative adjective (this/that/these/those) instead. Yes, I’m kind of picky.

Does it matter? Not always, but occasionally it does affect the meaning of the sentence or paragraph. I also scrutinize the pronouns in paragraphs to confirm the meaning is clear. Blame those English teachers, again! We were told to assume our reader knew nothing about our topic, and make our writing crystal clear. If I am confused by what I’ve written, you guys will be completely lost. So I go back and rework it until I feel comfortable a stranger off the street can figure it out. They may not care, but they can hopefully understand it!

So if you started this blog post expecting to learn a ton of new things about me, I’m sorry to disappoint you. You already knew far more than you ever realized! But for those who need something concrete: Chocolate. Red.

Speaking of errors, I managed to have the wrong time scheduled, so this posted before I thought it would—and it wasn’t done! So I deleted the first publication and have republished this one. I can’t even blame this on eggnog!

#52Ancestors

Future

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”–Doc Brown, “Back to the Future, Part III”

When I was a young child, my older siblings would try to confuse me with the saying, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Quick research revealed it to be a Dale Carnegie quote. When rattled off quickly to a six- or seven-year-old, it initially sounds like gibberish. Once I got somewhere quiet, and could think about the words, I realized it made perfect sense.

Genealogists spend a lot of time reading, researching, and thinking about the past. Yesterdays are very important to us, and we expend a lot of effort trying to tease the truth out of records about our past. Our ancesters frequently thwart us, by hiding from the census enumerator, running off to marry in the state next door, living in counties whose courthouses keep burning down, or dying without a will.

We are so focused on looking backwards, sometimes we forget that we are the future of our ancestors. I doubt they thought much about us, but here we are, continuing on their bloodlines, and living lives directly influenced by their decisions.

My DNA is a collection of my ancestors. Every gene inside me started with someone centuries ago. Each generation, some new genes found their way into my DNA strand, as others dropped off, to make room for those new ones. Go back enough generations, and some of those ancestors have no genetic connection to me at all. It doesn’t mean I don’t descend from them—I just don’t have that person’s DNA.

Just like my DNA is a summary of the ancestors before me, my life itself is a result of all those ancestors’ decisions—big and small—and probably the decisions of some people who ended up NOT becoming my ancestors! Were they thinking about the future, at that time? Probably not. They were just living their lives, and making decisions that seemed to be the best for themselves, right then. Each of their seemingly inconsequential decisions shaped their future, and that of their children, grandchilden, and so on.

“Wait, you don’t understand. If you don’t play, there’s no music. If there’s no music, they don’t dance. If they don’t dance, they don’t kiss and fall in love and I’m history.”

Marty McFly, “Back to the Future

Marty wasn’t a genealogist, and even he understood this! His very existence depended on an unimportant sequence of events.

It’s an idea I’ve toyed with in other posts, not necessarily spelling it out. Some examples?

  • My mom might not have asked out a boy she didn’t really know, if she hadn’t liked dancing—or apparently had a couple of “dud” dates (Going to the Chapel).
  • Great grandmother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger might have stayed in Wisconsin, and married someone there, if she hadn’t gone to work for a Chicago North Shore family (Trick or Treat)
  • I could have ended up a “California girl” if the Chicago’s fall weather had been more blustery when my dad was discharged from the Navy. After 18 months in the South Pacific, and another 18 months in California’s Imperial Valley, Dad would have moved back to San Diego if the weather hadn’t been so nice!
  • I would have a different collection of children—if I’d gone to Brigham Young University, instead.

Of course, Mike’s biggest concern about the future, is what to do with all the genealogy if I make the mistake of dying first . . .

The Future. We worry about it all the time, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that we hold it in our hands and create it with every decision we make. It would behoove us to take Doc Brown’s advice!

#52Ancestors

Tradition

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”—Fiddler on the Roof

Tradition is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes only one occurrance for something to be declared a tradition. For us, this often happens with food:

Other traditions build up over time, gradually ensnaring us, without our consciously thinking about it.

My parents got married 20 December 1944, and celebrated an anniversary around that same time every year. Amazing how that works! Imagine my poor Dad—not only did he have to come up with a Christmas present each year, but he needed an anniversary gift 4 days earlier!

Before the creation of shopping malls, most towns had a local “gift shop.” In Hinsdale, that place was Stolte’s. It was located in the Grant Square Shopping Center, a stone’s throw away from Hinsdale’s official downtown stores. Grant Square was an L-shaped (as opposed to strip) mall, anchored on the north leg by the Hinsdale Federal Savings and Loan (now, Evergreen Bank Group), and on the west leg by Kramer’s IGA (still there!). Stolte’s was right next to Kramer’s, but went out of business somewhere along the way. The Walgreens that had been at the corner of the shops is now located in the larger space previously occupied by Stolte’s.

During the 1950’s-1970s, Stolte’s was the go-to place for gift and knick-knacky items. My dad took my older siblings there to pick out small Hummel figurines that cost only $2-5. Carole, Bob, & Warren could pool their allowances and choose a cute one for Mom for Christmas. My Josef angels were usually acquired from there. Its location next to Kramer’s made it convenient to pop in to see what they had, if you needed a gift.

In December, 1960, my dad wandered into Stolte’s looking for something for their anniversary. He saw a crèche (manger scene) sitting on the shelf, and decided to buy that. The figurines were made in Italy. I don’t know exactly what they are made of. They are lightweight—definitely not ceramic—but certainly not plastic, either. Some Etsy web pages showing similar figurines identify them as resin, and some as “chalkware plaster.” The latter is referred to as be heavier, so I’ll go with resin.

The figures were nicely painted, and pretty, but what really drew my dad to the set was the stable that came with it for the setting. Many stables for nativity sets are very polished-looking. No livestock ever lived in there! But not this one. It was very rough and rustic, with straw on the roof, and reminded him of the ones he built as a kid.

When he was growing up, one of the priests at Holy Cross Church, in Deerfield, held a “contest” in December for the kids to build a manger to house a Christmas scene. They used whatever scrap wood and nails they could put their hands on, and they certainly looked kid-made. This stable fit the bill and spoke to my dad. He bought the set and brought it home.

Mom really liked it, and found a spot for it on the low bookcase that backed up to the stairway. That was its spot until we moved from that house in 1977. I don’t recall its location in the new house. It didn’t actually live in that house very long. When I got married, before Christmas that year, Mom & Dad brought two boxes to our apartment. One was their artificial Christmas tree (the apartment complex forbade live trees), and the other was the manger. Mom had recently acquired a Goebel (NOT Hummel!) manger set, and was giving the old one to me. She said it was mostly mine, anyway.

When she received the set in 1960, I was 2½, and absolutely fascinated by it. On the low bookcase, I could just barely reach the figurines. Mom would arrange them, and I would rearrange them. Even at that young age, I understood they weren’t toys or dolls, and didn’t “play” with them. I didn’t “walk” them around, or have them “talk” to each other, or remove them from the manger area. But I definitely had opinions about where the sheep, wise men, shepherds, and camel should be placed!

Nothing changed as I grew older. Mom would arrange—and I would rearrange—the figures many times each Christmas season. She saw that I was careful with them, though, and realized it was a losing battle to try and keep my hands off them. Twenty years later, she officially gave the set to me. It still goes up every Christmas, and I arrange—and rearrange—the figurines throughout the season.

At some point, my dad purchased a set of miniature white lights he would string around the outside and inside of the stable. That light string eventually died, and never made it to me. Several years ago, though, I found an LED light set that works equally well. So that tradition resumed.

The poor cow is having a rough go of it. I’m not sure why he’s showing so much wear. He and the donkey end up in the back corners, so it’s darker there, and not too noticable.

At almost 60 years old, the figurines are beginning to show a little wear; a little bit of chipping is appearing along the bottom edge on some, and the wire loop in the angel’s back (so she can hang on the nail at the peak of the roof) is a little more wobbly than it used to be. They are holding up fairly well, though, and nothing has broken (knock on wood!).

You may be thinking it’s nice there are several traditions being maintained:

  • the rough-hewn stable reminiscent of my dad’s childhood
  • setting it up each year and rearranging the figurines
  • Miniature lights around it

But there are other traditions surrounding the manger, having nothing to do with what sits out on display.

The original box the manger set came home in and has been stored in for the last 39 years. NO part of the set is made of glass!

We’ll start with the box. There is no “manger box from Italy.” The store packed the set into a “West Virginia Glass” box they had from other merchandise. It still has an address label, identifying the store. Inside the bottom is a divided insert with soft, “mossy” cushion material that I’m sure belongs to the figurines—the dividers are irregularly spaced, corresponding to the figurines’ dimensions. It was certainly not for glassware! The stable sets in on top of the figurines, and reaches just to the top of the box.

The box fits the manger set perfectly. Unfortunately, the cardboard is almost 60 years old, too, and deteriorating. I’ve been taping the top flaps for years, and have begun to tape the verticle corners. “Get a new box,” you say. What are the odds I will find a box with those exact dimensions? I’d say slim and none, so I keep the tape handy, and treat the box gently.

Then there’s the additional packing material inside. When my mom set it up the first time, she noticed the bottom of the stable was rough. The bookcase it was going on wasn’t particularly expensive, but she still didn’t want the top to be scratched if the stable was bumped or slid around on the top. So she took a section of the 20 December 1960 (the day she received the set) Chicago Tribune and folded it to the exact dimensions of the stable’s base. One barely notices there’s newspaper under it.

The layering newspaper sections. Usually it was the front section, but once the sports section was used. You can see the breakdown of the newsprint along the edges.

Similarly, Mom decided she wanted a layer between the stable and the figurines in the tray below—something in addition to what was protecting the bookcase. She was worried about the stable shifting around in the box and rubbing against the paint on the figurines as the box moved to and from the attic. So there’s another, considerably thicker, section of the Tribune from that day on top of the figurines. Along the way, addional sections of the Tribune were added from 3 January 1969, 31 December 1974, and 22 December 1978. Why? I have no idea.

Have you handled 60-year-old newsprint recently? It’s tricky! The paper is brittle and fragile, with bits crumbling off the edges. More than once in 38 years I’ve thought about replacing them with “fresh” sections, but I just can’t. Why?

Tradition.

For the last half century, I’ve been reading the headlines, articles, and captions on those papers. Depending on the year, and how rushed I am with decorating, I may read less or more, but I always (re)read some of it. Actually, only the front and back page of each section. The paper is too dried out now to risk opening them up to read the inside pages. Not only do they document the date my mom received the manger, they document what life was like at the time. I recall what the news was, what the fashions were, and how much they cost. It’s my own mini time capsule.

Remember Pat Harrington, Jr., playing Schneider on One Day at a Time? The show began my senior year of high school, and some of my friends had the hots for him. Seriously? He was 46 at the time! Imagine my surprise that next Christmas, seeing the 1960 photo and article about 31-year-old Harrington headlining at one of the local playhouses! The name and photo that meant nothing to me for years, suddenly had meaning. It boggled my mind, then. I couldn’t find it, tonight, so it must have been inside a section (when they could still be opened up, safely!). But I DID see that “Bob” (Robert) Conrad was starring in an upcoming Hawaiian Eye episode. He was from Chicago, so locals wanted to keep up on what he was doing.

Tradition. It can lock us into stagnation, or anchor us to important people, places, and events. Ideally, we jettison (or at least modify) the former, and cherish the latter.

#52Ancestors

Craft

Row, row, row your boat . . .

While everyone else is thinking artistically this week, I am outside the box once again, writing about watercraft. We didn’t live near the ocean, or have a summer cottage on one of the many Wisconsin lakes within an easy drive of the Chicago suburbs. Dad didn’t own a bass boat, sail boat, speed boat, or a spiffy yacht docked at one of the marinas on Lake Michigan.

He had a rowboat. Well, actually, it also had an outboard motor, so I guess it was a step up from a rowboat.

I was pretty young (under age 5, I believe) when we used it, so my memories are a bit fuzzy. I don’t recall if it was wood or aluminum, or how many seats it had (I think there were 3). What I mostly remember is that it was named the Carole Ann, after my sister. I always felt a little put out that she had a boat named after her, and I didn’t, but that was just me being an unreasonable child. For the 50 weeks of the year we weren’t on vacation, the boat leaned up against the shed (former chicken coop) at the very back of our yard.

I emailed my brothers, Warren & Bill, to see what they remembered. Warren (10 years older) confirmed it was aluminum, and said we didn’t have it until we had the trailer (1958). He also said Dad still owned the motor (and presumably, the boat) in 1970, though both brothers agreed it never traveled to the Door County, Wisconsin, vacations prior to that—just to Minnesota. They also agreed that Dad must have sold it, eventually, since it was still usable.

Taking it on vacation meant hoisting it onto the roof rack of the car and tying it down so it it didn’t shift while driving, stopping, or turning. Warren described it this way:

I remember that we leaned the boat against the longitudinal bar (on the top of the car) from the side of the car. This bar may have been a roller bar. The boat was then slid/rolled to the top of the car and then rotated 90 degrees so the bow of the boat was over the hood of the car. The bow was tied to the bumper of the car. The back may have been tied to the back bumper and the sides may have been tied to the car top carrier. I do not remember those details. 

Warren Haws, to Christine Bauman, e-mail, 7 December 2019, Dad’s Rowboat. Bauman Email Files; privately held by Christine Haws Bauman, Greenwood, Indiana.
Undated photo of the 1960 Country Sedan station wagon hooked up to the trailer, with our boat strapped to the top of the car. The front license plate isn’t clear enough to provide a year. This would have been the night before we were leaving on vacation in early July of whatever year it was. Hooking up the trailer could take a little time, lining vehicles up and checking the lights. It always took longer, when you were in a hurry! So if we needed an early start, Dad would do that the night before. In the morning, we just had to pile into the car and pull out. You can see the trailer step still down and the door open, for the last of the food and clothes to be loaded inside.

You can see the rope in front, anchoring the boat to the bumper (back when bumpers were made of metal, not plastic!). The others ropes aren’t visible, but I’m sure they were there.

Our trips to Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minnesota, involved a fair amount of fishing. The boat couldn’t hold all of us, so we rotated. I doubt Mom was ever in it. She didn’t swim, so going in a rowboat would not have been high on her vacation to-do list! As the youngest, I spent the least time in it, because:

  • I wasn’t much of a fisherman at 3 or 4
  • I wouldn’t have the patience to sit still for very long
  • I’m positive I wouldn’t have kept quiet enough!

I do remember going out on the lake, though, especially the time when I caught my first fish. I was so excited! It was a small sunfish or bluegill, and Dad probably filleted and cooked it up specifically for me for dinner that night.

Except, it was a fake. Well, the fish was real; catching it wasn’t.

Apparently I’d been frustrated and upset about not catching any fish on that and prior outings. So while my line was in the water, whichever sibling was also in the boat distracted me. That gave Dad enough time to carefully hook a fish already caught onto my hook, so I could “catch” it.

It’s kind of like the time(s) you let a little kid win the board game by playing poorly, or outright cheating against yourself. I was clueless, of course, until many years later when a sibing spilled the beans. By then, I had caught plenty of fish on my own, so it was only a slight ego blow.

Possibly the last vacation for the Carole Ann was when I was 5 or 6. My dad took his father and father-in-law on a 1- or 2-week fishing trip. The rest of us stayed home, because my older siblings all had summer jobs they needed, earning money for college. Mom stayed home with all of us, and Dad drove the 3 of them up, with the trailer and boat, probably to Minnesota. Both my grandfathers were in their 70s, so Dad ended up doing all the cooking, dish washing, and fish-cleaning. It wasn’t much of a “vacation” for him!

Photo from July, 1963 or 1964. Ed Haws, Christoph Meintzer, Robert Haws, with the day’s catch (and dinner for that night!).

No, the boat isn’t in this photo, but it undoubtedly figured into that impressive stringer of fish . . .

Our rowboat (with its outboard motor) wasn’t the most impressive watercraft, and wasn’t in our lives very long, but it provided a lot of fun and memories to three generations of fishermen.

#52Ancestors